Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Oxford Comma: What's the consensus anyway?

Dear Writers and Friends,

I'm sure you've come across the term "Oxford comma." What is the debate on this? Why can't people seem to come to an agreement? Should I use it or not? 

There are a million posts on this one heated grammar rule, but I've been asked a lot about this rule lately. So here is yet another post on it. Be sure to check out the end of the post for some more helpful posts on this. 

What is the Oxford Comma?

According to The Chicago Manual of Style, the Oxford comma is used when a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series of three or more (section 6.18). An example would be: The flag was red, white, and blue. That last comma between "white" and "and" is known as the Oxford comma.

What's the consensus? Do I use it or not?

This is a divided issue. Years ago, the Oxford comma was strictly enforced. In recent years, many have strongly argued against the use of this comma. Now it's a divided issue. 

Proponents of the Oxford comma

Most editors and The Chicago Manual of Style argue in favor of the Oxford comma. Proponents of the Oxford comma say that it prevents ambiguity. 

For example, consider the following examples. 

Yes, these are some extreme examples. But really, without the Oxford comma, sentences are full of ambiguity and confusion. As an editor, I see sentences like this all the time. 

Who Recommends Using:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style (current edition)
  • MLA
  • APA (the official website even goes as far as to requiring it)
Opponents of the Oxford Comma

It's clunky and unnecessary, opponents cry. And in some cases, it is. "The flag was red, white and blue." There isn't really any ambiguity here. In this case, putting that last comma could be clunky. 

Who Recommends Not Using
  • AP Styleguide
  • Most of Europe

Know what style you're writing for. If you're writing in AP style, you don't have a choice. You can't put that Oxford comma in. Other than that, more or less it's your choice.

The key is consistency. Use it or don't. Make your choice and stick with it.  

My Thoughts

I am Team Oxford comma, as most editors are. It just prevents some awkward situations like the ones listed above. 

 For more articles on this, check out the following links.

What do you think?


Danica Page

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